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India vs England: Rumble in England camp as Bairstow unwilling to give up keeping

He averages better with the bat, has scored all five centuries as a keeper, and all but 10 catches have come in the 17 Tests he has not kept.

cricket Updated: Aug 29, 2018 08:38 IST
N Ananthanarayanan
N Ananthanarayanan
Hindustan Times, Southampton
india vs england,england vs india,jonny bairstow
Cricket - England Nets - Ageas Bowl, West End, Britain - August 28, 2018 England's Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler during nets (REUTERS)

Home series are a great way for cricket teams to regain their confidence after tough overseas assignments, but England, despite leading 2-1 in the Test series against India, are looking anything but settled going into the fourth match starting at the Ageas Bowl on Thursday.

England skipper Joe Root, easily the best batsman of the side, has been moved up a slot from his usual No 4 spot to give protection to the brittle batting order. The jury is still out on that as India’s sharp pace attack has struck early to expose him to the new ball in this series.

The England team management now have a fresh problem on hand as they push for another experiment – asking Jonny Bairstow to give up the wicketkeeping gloves and play as a batsman, likely at No 4. Bairstow, recovering from a ‘small’ fracture in the middle finger of his left hand suffered in the third Test at Trent Bridge, is likely to bat in that position and leave the keeping to Jos Buttler in the fourth Test.

But it is clear Bairstow – England’s best batsman in this series with 206 runs, and top scores of 70 and 93 – is unwilling to give up keeping. Although Bairstow on Tuesday didn’t specify, the player just does not want the extra pressure having to prove himself in one department will bring.

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Pushing him to No 4 may thus make him doubly unhappy. In 57 Tests, Bairstow has kept wicket in 40. He averages better with the bat, has scored all five centuries as a keeper, and all but 10 catches have come in the 17 Tests he has not kept.

On Tuesday, as England trained, Bairstow was taken aside for a chat lasting around 30 minutes by the team’s Australian coach, Trevor Bayliss. It didn’t appear Bairstow was convinced he should give up keeping. Later, chief selector, Ed Smith, spoke to Bayliss. Buttler was the keeper during slip catching practice.

“The finger feels good… the swelling’s gone down and it’s a lot better than I thought it was going to be,” Bairstow told a media conference earlier on Tuesday.

“I don’t know how it’s going to be. I’m going to try and keep wicket (at training). I want to play, so if I’m not able to keep wicket (in Southampton Test), I’d like to think I can play as a specialist batman. At the same time, I’m still desperate to try to keep my place as the keeper.”

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Does he agree he can improve as a specialist batsman? He retorted: “That’s quite a bold statement because if you look at the stats they suggest I’m better if I keep wicket as well. You’re kind of entering unchartered territory when you’re making bold statements and as I mentioned I’d like to keep my spot as keeper because I like to think it’s gone well over the last 38 or 39 Tests since I’ve been keeping for England.

“It’s a difficult one because you put so much hard work into keeping wicket over a sustained period. It would be like saying ‘do you want to give up your lap-top and write everything free hand again’?”

Plans to bat higher didn’t impress him either. “Whereabouts are you talking about? I’m batting at five which is a pretty strong position. If you look through the side, when you had (Jonathan) Trott, (Ian) Bell and (Kevin) Pietersen, Bell batted at five and that’s just the way it is. … At this moment in time, I was asked if I was comfortable batting at five and keeping and it’s been successful.”

Would he “resist” giving up keeping? “You’ve just said what my answer would be in that question.”

First Published: Aug 29, 2018 08:31 IST